How to protect your credit
Your credit file is a helpful tool in identifying potentially fraudulent activity occurring under your name. There are some steps you can take to make sure you're getting the most out of your credit file.
Order a copy of your credit report at least once a year to check for accounts that may have been opened without your knowledge or unauthorized changes to your existing accounts. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), you're annually entitled to a free credit report. AnnualCreditReport.com provides you with a secure way to do so.
Additionally, each of the three major credit bureaus offer ongoing monitoring programs with varying features. These services are usually available for a fee. All of them provide alerts for when your credit report changes, such as when you open a new bank account. Remember, even if you take advantage of these services, you will still need to take additional action if you are alerted of any potentially fraudulent activity.
If you are concerned that your personal information has been compromised, you can request to place a fraud alert on your credit file. A fraud alert will warn lenders that you may have been a fraud victim and they should contact you directly before any new loan or credit is established in your name. The alert will stay on your credit file for 90 days. If you would like the alert to last longer than that, you can renew it.
To place a fraud alert on your credit file, contact one of the three credit bureaus. Once you've set up the alert with one credit bureau, they are required to share that alert with other bureaus.
A security freeze, or credit freeze, blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or "pull" your credit file, unless you unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. This helps prevent identity theft because most creditors won't extend credit without first being able to pull a credit file. Keep in mind that this will also prevent you from opening any new accounts, so be sure to unfreeze your credit file before you apply for credit or open a new bank account. Be aware that there may also be a waiting period when you want to unfreeze it to apply for credit in the future.
To place a freeze, contact each of the major credit bureaus and request a freeze. They will each provide you with a unique personal identification number (PIN).You can use these PINs to unfreeze your credit file in the event that you need to apply for credit. Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to pay a fee for this service.
The Credit Bureaus
There are four major credit bureaus. Below is contact information for each of them.
- TransUnion: 800-916-8800
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- Equifax: 800-685-1111
- Innovis: 800-540-2505